|02.14.11 at 12:08 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — In a development whose significance stretches beyond the baseball field, Red Sox shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias is thrilled that his father will be joining him in about a month. Iglesias, 21, left behind his entire family when he defected from Cuba, but his brother is now in the U.S., and his father — who is currently in Mexico — will be joining them. The shortstop expects that his father will remain with him for the season.
That comes in stark contrast to the player’s first full year in the U.S. in 2010, when he had little contact with his family, and relied heavily on Red Sox baseball operations special assistant Alex Ochoa — a Cuban-American who spent much of last year with Iglesias — to help ease his transition. Iglesias, unsurprisingly, has a locker stationed next to fellow Cuban defector Juan Carlos Linares.
(For more on Iglesias and the transitional challenges faced by players coming to play baseball in the U.S. from Cuba, click here.)
–Reliever Dan Wheeler arrived in Fort Myers and met with the media. The right-hander spent much of his time discussing his former team, the Rays — both the radical overhaul they endured this offseason when Wheeler, Carl Crawford, three other members of the bullpen (including closer Rafael Soriano) and first baseman Carlos Pena all left as free agents, as well as Tampa Bay’s bullpen of a year ago and its relevance for the Sox.
The Rays bullpen struggled despite a respectable 3.98 ERA in 2009, blowing 22 saves, tied for eighth most in the majors. Last year, with the offseason additions of Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit, the Rays had the best ERA in the American League (3.33), the most saves (51) in the AL and the fewest blown saves (16) in the AL East (fourth fewest in the AL). Wheeler sees no reason why the Sox cannot enjoy a similar change of fortunes with their relievers in 2011.
“From year to year, bullpens, it changes,” said Wheeler. “There’s a good core nucleus here. I think there have been some key additions. There’s no reason to think that we can’t do the same thing here right now.”
–As for his role, Wheeler suggested that he did not have a defined sense of that with the Sox, but he was accustomed to pitching at just about any stage of the game for Rays skipper Joe Maddon, so he was not terribly concerned about gaining definition about his responsibilities.
“Usually, after the fifth inning, I’m ready to go whenever. We’ll have a better idea, a better feel for that, come season time,” said Wheeler, whose 0.975 WHIP over the last three seasons ranks 10th in the majors. “But there’s obviously guys that have been doing this in the roles they’ve been doing for the last couple of years, and that’s their job. I view myself as a guy that’s just going to come in here and help and take a little load off somebody else.’
–Matt Albers, who is competing for a roster spot, said that a few teams expressed interest in him after he was non-tendered by the Orioles in December, but the decision to sign with the Sox was fairly simple. He wanted the opportunity to play for a competitive team, and at the time, there seemed to be clear openings in the bullpen. Of course, that was before the signings of Bobby Jenks, Wheeler and a boatload of left-handed and right-handed pitchers, but Albers felt that his sinker/slider combination could help him secure a middle relief job. The 28-year-old is out of options.
–Ryan Kalish enjoyed the conclusion of his time at Athletes’ Performance. He noted that he was in a group by himself because he was working on both his speed and power; most players are assigned to one of those two groups. Still, he enjoyed the chance to be around Manny Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross and other established big leaguers.
|02.14.11 at 10:00 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Today marks the day when official activity commences in spring training. It’s not exactly going to inspire visions of the home stretch of the playoff race, but with almost all pitchers and catchers accounted for (with the possible exceptions of Dennys Reyes and Alfredo Aceves, who face a couple days of visa-related issues), the Sox will conduct a conditioning drill today in one of the annual rites of spring.
With the real beginning of spring training, here’s a look back at what’s taken place so far in Fort Myers:
–The bullpen was a major shortcoming for the Sox in 2010. Part of the Sox’ offseason shopping spree was dedicated to upgrading it, though in the early stages of spring training (an otherwise sleepy time when paint dries and players play catch on flat ground), that has been subject to questions about dynamics and the future.
Jonathan Papelbon said that he is aware that this could be his last season in Boston, but that he doesn’t anticipate that affecting his 2011 season, even as he wants to position himself to be the top closer on the market.
Bobby Jenks, signed as a free agent this offseason, could be a closer-in-waiting either in 2012 (if Papelbon leaves as a free agent) or even this year (if the longtime Sox closer falters). But he has no ambitions of fomenting a closer controversy, and pronounced upon arriving that he’s not looking to step on anyone’s toes. The opportunity to sign with the Red Sox as a setup man, he said, outweighed the chance provided by other clubs to close.
The other potential closer-in-waiting, Daniel Bard, said that he is excited about the fact that the Sox bullpen can redistribute the workload a bit, something that could leave all of the relievers feeling fresh down the stretch. That is the forecast for this year. Down the road, the right-hander suggested that he would be open to trying his hand at starting once again.
There are 21 pitchers in Red Sox camp competing for the last two spots in the big league bullpen. Here’s a look at who has options, who’s on minor league deals and whom the Sox would risk losing if they don’t make the Opening Day roster. Here’s a closer look at 15 of the 21 candidates.
–While such players on the fringes of the roster may be unfamiliar and seem to have little relevance in the spring, the Sox staff actually spends more time focusing on such players than on established veterans, and with good reason. Here’s a look at why, as well as some of the measures that the team takes in order to ensure that players with unfamiliar faces feel comfortable in their clubhouse.
–Dustin Pedroia checked into Fort Myers, where he pronounced himself healthy and ready to play without restrictions following his recovery from a procedure to insert a screw in his broken left foot. He also endured much grief about his new hair style, which was compared by manager Terry Francona to that of Giovanni Ribisi. The comparisons don’t stop there — Pedroia shares an opinion with consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader about a particularly egregious act of consumer fraud.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that Pedroia has returned from a disastrous broken bone. As a high school freshman quarterback, he had his led snapped on an option play (though rumors that Bears linebacker Lance Briggs delivered the hit appear unfounded). His recovery from that injury, said his high school coach Rob Rinaldi, bodes well for his return from this injury. Read the rest of this entry »
|02.14.11 at 8:32 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Speaking to WEEI.com through translator Mikio Yoshimura, Daisuke Matsuzaka said that unlike last offseason he is not dealing with any injuries, has lost 11 pounds since a year ago, and feels like he is capable of pitching more than even when he first arrived with the Red Sox in 2007.
Matsuzaka has already thrown two bullpen sessions at the team’s minor-league training facility, with an extended morning of throwing with bullpen catcher Manny Martinez the day in between. Sunday, the 30-year-old threw approximately 70 pitches off the mound.
“I feel like I can throw more now than I used to. I feel physically better,” explained Matsuzaka, who battled a neck problem last spring training. “I feel like I can pitch more than I did in 2007.” The righty pitcher threw a career-high 204 2/3 innings in ’07.
Matsuzaka decided to work out this offseason in Honolulu with some of his former teammates from Seibu Lions. He explained that his regimen included parts of the Red Sox’ offseason workout program, and a portion of the plan given to him by a trainer from Japan. There was, the pitcher said, added emphasis on strengthening his legs.
“I carried over from the regular season and built a foundation for this season. That two worked out really well,” he said. “I healed and then continued to build up. I also had no concerns this offseason about any injuries, which is something I really hoped for. I wanted to be able to be 100 percent when I got here, and it came true.”
Matsuzaka finished ’10 making 25 starts, going 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA. He missed the first month of the season with a neck injury, not making his season debut until May 1, and then was placed on the 15-day disabled list in June due to a strained forearm.
For more spring training coverage, go to the Red Sox’ team page at weei.com/redsox.
|02.13.11 at 4:30 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Jonathan Papelbon did not hide from the reality of the 2010 campaign. From the time he assumed the role of closer in 2006 through 2009, he had been as automatic as any closer in the game.
But the 2010 season was different. Papelbon blew eight saves — more than any other reliever in the American League and more than in any other season of his career. His 3.90 ERA was more than double his career 1.84 mark prior to last year. He had career highs in homers (7) and walks (28) allowed.
“Obviously,” he acknowledged, “it was a down season.”
Even so, the 30-year-old said that the idea that he might not be back with the Sox for 2011 never crossed his mind this winter — even as the Sox talked to free agent Mariano Rivera, even as they signed Bobby Jenks to join the Boston bullpen, even as rumors persisted that the Sox were open to trading their longtime closer.
“I really honestly never thought that,” he said in a meeting with the media on Sunday morning. “There was never a point this offseason where I didn’t think I’d be here.”
That may change going forward. He recognizes that this may (or may not) be his last spring training with the Sox, depending on what happens to him when he reaches free agency following the year. But even as several questions were focused on that front, Papelbon suggested that the issue of his employer in 2012 is a matter for another time.
Papelbon said that his focus was and is on the fate of the 2011 Sox (a team he described as “championship caliber”), and that he did not approach this season any differently just because free agency looms on the other side of it. Even so, the closer said that he understood why there is a prevailing assumption among Sox followers that — with both Jenks (signed through 2012) and Daniel Bard (under team control through 2015) on the Sox roster — Papelbon is entering his final season with the Sox. Read the rest of this entry »
|02.13.11 at 3:09 pm ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona held court with the media for the first time since arriving in spring training. He had spent the last two days huddled with team officials and coaches to formulate individual spring plans for the players in camp.
The Sox skipper welcomed the big expectations that exist for his club. One reporter noted that former Sox bench coach Brad Mills told Francona, after Boston’s active offseason, “Don’t [bleep] it up.”
“I actually had a few of those,” chuckled Francona. “One of them was from [GM Theo Epstein].”
Francona touched on a number of topics. Among them:
–Francona said that the team would try to manage any concerns about outfielder J.D. Drew‘s hamstrings. The outfielder has been concerned enough to have received medical attention from Dr. James Andrews in Alabama as well as doctors in Boston about his discomfort, though Francona suggested that the concern was not a huge one.
“It’s something that he has voiced some concern about,” said Francona. “I don’t think he’s real concerned about it, but it’s been there. I don’t think we want it to be a concern, so we’ll certainly monitor it.”
–The team doesn’t feel that it will have to put restrictions on second baseman Dustin Pedroia in his return from a broken foot, but it will try to structure his work to prevent him from having to stretch his foot out.
“When he does his work, we need to probably not break it up in segments. We try not to do that anyway. When they go out and do their infield stuff, they put their gloves down and then go to hitting,” said Francona. “But we’d rather not beat up guys ‘ and a guy like Pedroia is a good example ‘ for no reason. We’ll keep an eye on him. For as much as he talks and he likes to talk, he’s pretty honest with me about stuff. So I’m not too worried about that. there’s a reason we like him as a player, but at the same time we realize what’s happened to him, and we’ll keep an eye on him.”
BULLPEN: PAPELBON AND THE SETUP GROUP
–The manager does not foresee an issue arising with the acquisition of Bobby Jenks, a closer-turned-setup man. Francona, does, however, believe that closer Jonathan Papelbon will be able to use both the disappointment of his down year in 2010 as well as his status as a free agent following the 2011 season as sources of motivation. Read the rest of this entry »
|02.13.11 at 10:48 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was a winter filled with novelty for Red Sox pitcher Michael Bowden. He got married early in the offseason, spent some time at home in his native Illinois and then, for the first time in his career, played winter ball.
Some pitchers might view the sudden change of gears from his honeymoon to winter ball to be jarring. But Bowden embraced his time in Venezuela.
“The atmosphere there, the competitiveness, the experience of the games, the energy the fans bring — just to see a different country and how they respect the game and play the game, it was just awesome,” Bowden said upon reporting to spring training on Sunday. “I really enjoyed it.”
The 24-year-old viewed his time pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League as an opportunity to gain greater familiarity with life out of the bullpen. Since the Sox selected him in the sandwich round of the 2005 draft, he had spent each of his first five spring trainings getting stretched out as a starter.
This year, he expects to be preparing strictly as a reliever in Sox camp. He made 14 relief appearances in the majors with the Sox, ending the 2010 season with a 4.70 ERA while having struck out 13 and walked just four in his 15 1/3 innings. While his willingness to attack the strike zone was an asset out of the bullpen, the results were uneven — though he did get swings and misses and strikeouts, opponents had a .323 average, .364 OBP, .548 slugging mark and .912 OPS against him. His time in Venezuela helped to acclimate him to a role in which he started working full time in the middle of the 2010 season.
“Down there, I pitched in the eighth innings of some big games,” said Bowden. “They use pitchers a little bit differently there. I had to be ready for a lot of different roles. I experienced quite a bit. I only threw nine innings, but I threw quite a few outings. I’d go in there for a hitter or two hitters or an out. I experienced a lot of different roles and had to get ready and amped up for different situations.”
Bowden allowed three earned runs in nine innings in Venezuela, though he allowed 11 hits and seven walks (against six strikeouts) in his 10 appearances there. Still, he viewed the time as extremely productive, since it allowed him to experiment with a pitch that could be important to him going forward.
Last year, Bowden shelved his curveball completely, not throwing the pitch once while using the slider as his lone breaking ball. In Venezuela, he worked on developing a cutter — a pitch he had never thrown before. Read the rest of this entry »
|02.13.11 at 9:50 am ET|
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Bobby Jenks arrived at the Red Sox minor league training facility on Sunday morning, and admitted that there were unfamiliar elements that greeted him on a new team. There was, of course, the issue of making sure he found the far end of Edison Ave. in Fort Myers, as well as the unusual hue of his new threads.
“I put my jersey on earlier. Not used to the color yet,” said Jenks. “That takes some time, but very excited to be here.”
That is not the only unfamiliar element of Jenks’ new club. He is making a transition to a new team, a new division and a new role, as after spending the last five-plus years as the closer of the White Sox, he will now be serving as the setup man for Jonathan Papelbon.
The presence of Jenks — a two-time All-Star closer — on the roster could lend itself to clamoring for Papelbon to be replaced in that game-ending role should the Red Sox’ longtime closer stumble. But Jenks, who has 173 saves in his career, insisted that if there is any question about the definition of late-inning roles, it will not be the result of his politicking.
“I didn’t come here to step on anybody’s toes. I know what my role is,” said Jenks. “Coming here, [Papelbon and Jenks have] been friends for many years now, I don’t think that’s going to be any problem throughout the year at all. …
“If those questions do come up, it’s going to come down to the decision of the management and whatever they think is best for the team. If that means whatever it means, they’re doing it for their own reasons.’
The 29-year-old (he turns 30 in a month) — who said that he had free-agent offers to close — said that he wasn’t entirely certain of what that transition would entail, but he was more than happy to try it. For the opportunity to pitch with the Red Sox, he was willing to depart from his comfort zone.
“Once the opportunity came up, I had the chance to come here and I jumped right on it. There was no real other reason than that. I had a few other opportunities to close right away, keep doing what I was doing, but I jumped right on it,” said Jenks. “It’s going to be different, obviously. It’s an adjustment that I’ll have to make on the field. There have been times in my career where I’ve come in in the eighth and finished the ninth. You just have to take that mentality into the eighth every time.
“I’ve talked [about the transition to setting up] to a few coaches I know in Arizona who have been around the game and stuff, but no one in person who has done or is doing what I’m doing now. It’s going to have to be one of those moments where I just adjust on the fly and do everything you can in spring to get ready for those.”
Jenks suggested that the adjustment is mental rather than physical, but that it will also entail a bit of a change in his routine in order to be ready to enter the game at earlier points.
Other highlights: Read the rest of this entry »
Latest from Bleacher Report
- Top 40 Season in Review: Bryce Brentz and Christopher Acosta
- Top 40 Season in Review: Justin Haley and Jake Cosart
- Top 40 Season in Review: Drake Britton and Dalier Hinojosa
- Top 40 Season in Review: Cody Kukuk and Jamie Callahan
- Top 40 Season in Review: Dan Butler and Mauricio Dubon
- Fall/Winter League Roundup: Castillo, Coyle impress early
- Scouting Scratch: Fall Instructs Part Three
- Scouting Scratch: Fall Instructs Part Two
- Weekly Notes: Arizona Fall League and Fall Instructs start up
- Scouting Scratch: Fall Instructs Part One